Nonfiction

Fostering RESILIENCE through Gardening by Salomé Carrasco

Loneliness and isolation have been widespread for people all over our city this year. My life has drastically been affected as have so many. The expectations of school and home life suddenly blended into uncertainty and tiresome months of a lack of socialization. I found comfort in spending time outdoors, taking hikes with my family to study edible native plant life, birdwatching and helping my mother create a handful of permaculture style herb, flower and perennial gardens. I find I feel healthier on days when I’m outside soaking in the sunshine, the time to be alone with my thoughts or away from electronics is a pleasant change of pace. As the summer blended into fall, I have witnessed an increase in bird species varieties, garter snakes, and even two giant Hogan Carolensis, also known as, North America’s largest wolf spider. With so many neighbors staying home, there seems to be an explosion of gardening on my block this year. Our overflow of lamium and mint was divided and shared with various neighbors, who in turn shared vegetable overflow with my large family and soaps made from lavender and roses we provided for another neighbor. I have enjoyed working with my younger siblings, teaching them the names of plants. I am grateful for the space to garden, but I realize not everyone has these same opportunities. I believe community gardens and gardens in general can benefit neighborhoods, lead to intergenerational relationships, and improve our local biodiversity.

I grew up on the east side of Colorado Springs in Pikes Peak Park. The summers were hot, with extreme weather and a definite difference in the amount of vegetation and old growth in my neighborhood compared to wealthier parts of town. There was little social interaction among neighbors, similar to many other places since people generally tend to keep to themselves. They leave for work or school and return home often without acknowledging anyone that lives on the same block. Sometimes you can walk through neighborhoods and never see anyone outside. Our interactions with friends and family tend to take place in our homes or in public places. Stated in All Things Considered on NPR, people of low-income areas are more likely to live with hotter temperatures than the wealthier individuals (paragraph 4). This is due to a lack of mature trees that can provide shade in neighborhoods and a lack of any leafy vegetation that can provide any ground cover shade. So in the event that a neighbor has chosen to start a community garden to provide a place to spark social interaction, according to Könst, Anne, et al. one of the three key conditions to maintain a community garden is to have, “Strong neighborhood involvement to provide the necessary means and optimal use of the garden” (575). It is crucial to have a steady flow of volunteers willing to put time and effort into the garden to bring out the most it has to offer.

Without constant participation, the garden is more than likely to be abandoned, but when a garden is successful, strengthened social ties become apparent. I remember a couple of elderly Asian women in my old neighborhood who wore conical hats. They walked from their homes (I assume at the nearby apartments) to a dirt lot behind the Autozone. Daily, they would carry water jugs to establish a small garden they developed on an empty plot of land. Their dedication was intriguing to me as a young child watching as they carried water to what seemed like nothing more than a pile of dirt. As the summer passed, the little patch of dirt grew into a lush oasis at the edge of the barren lot. These women are a prime example of someone who has knowledge that should be shared. Younger generations may not know that our ancestors had many tried and true methods for successful harvests. Understanding soil conditions, building guilds and even planting with the phases of the moon are all wisdom that most people who grew up with farming or gardening knowledge are well aware of.

As the younger generation is seen as environmentally conscious and rises to fight for the climate, intergenerational relationships would thrive wonderfully in a community garden. Konst, et al. discusses how a lack of younger participants could threaten the future of community gardens, since most of the members who helped maintain the Dutch gardens were unemployed (591). Without a younger generation to learn from the older generation, the garden could be lost or abandoned. Community gardens are not solely meant for growing plants, but are also places of education.

Students and adults alike could learn about sustainability at their local gardens. Sustainability is similar to using a budget on the world’s resources and limiting resource use for each generation so the next generation can still have some to use and efficiently let the environment recover to maintain a balance with nature. Written from the Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social Justice under Sustainability, “Knowledge and skills gained through these [hands-on-learning and real-world-problem-solving] kinds of experiences empower students to make informed choices and act for positive change in their own communities” (paragraph 10). In educating the younger generation and spreading awareness about sustainability to all generations, the younger generation can better prepare for their future and grow up with a different mindset to preserve the local environment rather than depleting it.

Four years ago my family moved to a new neighborhood. Our home now sits against a green space full of biodiversity. Biodiversity is the variety of different plant and animal species across different environments (Dictionary of Physical Geography). When we first arrived at the property there was nothing but an established linden tree and pine tree in the front yard. Rocks covered a very large portion of the front and backyard and what remained was a mix of dying lawn and Canadian thistle. I tried putting out bird feeders with seeds and nectar for hummingbirds, but they passed by our yard to feed in our neighbors lush vine covered garden. My parents started by planting new trees and shrubs. My mother did research to include vegetation that would not only thrive in our high desert environment but also provide food for birds, pollinators, and our family. As soon as these plants were established, the birds had a place to perch and felt more secure feeding at our feeders. The change was dramatic!

Initially there were only a few juncos, finches and the occasional chickadee would visit. Then red shafted flickers began to swoop in to take a nibble of some suet, then the infamous magpies flocked our backyard. A little later we saw starlings, tanager, orioles, warblers, nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, bushtits, and swallows would come to visit our yard seasonally. Each year we add a little more vegetation, reclaiming rock and weed covered areas as we went. Creeping low growth plants hold in moisture to help shelter the roots of taller perennials and trees. Planting bulbs and leaving dandelions to bloom provide much needed food for early pollinators. Skipping fall cleanup of dead leaves and spent flowers leaves behind seeds and places for insects to hide which also provides nourishment for winter birds to scavenge through.

As the neighbors saw us toiling in the front and back yard, we received words of encouragement, compliments and even had neighbors ask us over to see their gardens and share their overgrowth with us. I could tell that gardening definitely had a positive effect on myself and the people around me. In a study taken from some local residents of Bakersfield, California, Siewell, Nicholas, et al. found there to be considerable benefits to community gardens in the neighborhood, such as: physical and mental health benefits from a reduce in BMI count to the garden being a place of relaxation (175). People who wish to start their own garden or participate in a community garden do not need to be experts.

In fact, Colorado Springs has plenty of resources from Colorado Springs Utilities which provides water wise landscaping classes, a plant database with pictures and names of plants that thrive in our area, and a gallery of garden blueprints. They even have a couple of demonstration gardens to show how vibrant gardens can be even with low water usage. Pikes Peak Urban Gardens which manages a handful of community gardens around town, where people can register to be involved, provide educational classes for children and adults. Many people benefit from these resources but there are large portions of the population who are either not aware of these resources or don’t have access because of limited mobility. Having volunteer ambassadors who can gather this information and bring it to public libraries could help further the success of these programs by getting more people involved.

Community gardens do not have to be managed by local governments, in fact there are multiple varieties of community gardening. Guerilla gardening, where you can take an empty lot and reclaim it with a flourishing garden like the ladies in my old neighborhood. Micro gardens that can be planted in your front yard, even container gardening for apartments. All of which can bring social engagement, skill sharing, and improve the environment in all neighborhoods. As for the future of Colorado Springs community gardens, materials can be sourced from The Habitat Re-Store, the city mulch pile, nurseries or box stores that have plants and seeds thrown out due to damage preventing them from being sold. Social media can engage the “fun factor” (Könst), a condition needed to keep volunteers engaged so as not to make the environment feel like a job. Creating a social presence can help spur the idea of micro or macro community gardens giving a place to share successes and even failures like tiny tomatoes and deformed carrots, reminding citizens from across our great city that expansive rewards can come from something as simple and timeless as gardening.

Works Cited

Anderson, Meg, and Sean McMinn. “As Rising Heat Bakes U.S. Cities, The Poor Often Feel It Most.” NPR, NPR, 3 Sept. 2019, www.npr.org/2019/09/03/754044732/as-rising-heat-bakes-u-s-cities-the-poor-often-feel-it-most .

Biodiversity Meadows, M. E. (2016). biodiversity. In D. S. G. Thomas, & Goudie Andrew(Eds.), The dictionary of physical geography (4th ed.). Blackwell Publishers. CredoReference:

https://search-credoreference-com.libdb.ppcc.edu/content/entry/bkphsgeo/biodiversity/0

Colorado Springs Utilities, www.csu.org/.

Gentile, S. J. (2014). Sustainability. In S. Thompson (Ed.), Encyclopedia of diversity and social justice. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Credo Reference:

https://libdb.ppcc.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/rowmandasj/sustainability/0?institutionId=2265

Gentile, S. J. (2014). Sustainability. In S. Thompson (Ed.), Encyclopedia of diversity and social justice. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Credo Reference:

https://search-credoreference-com.libdb.ppcc.edu/content/entry/rowmandasj/sustainability/0

Könst, Anne, et al. “Civic-Led Public Space: Favourable Conditions for the Management of Community Gardens.” Town Planning Review, vol. 89, no. 6, 2018, pp. 575–595.

http://web.b.ebscohost.com.libdb.ppcc.edu/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=55e1c68c-7f32-4592-951b-22529b0bbf36%40pdc-v-sessmgr03&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#

Pikes Peak Urban Gardens https://www.ppugardens.com/

Siewell, Nicholas, Aguirre. “Building Sustainable Neighborhoods through Community Gardens: Enhancing Residents’ Well-Being through University-Community Engagement Initiative.” Metropolitan Universities, Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities.

https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1092961.pdf